Caleb stood out on the balcony in the rushing wind and biting cold.
This is just too cool!!!
Greyson Manor was a walking fortress, its numerous legs thundering along as it made its way through the city. Despite the noise, however, the legs didn’t damage what they walked on, which was fortuitous. Grimoire wasn’t a city designed for giant walking fortresses to easily maneuver around and so Greyson Manor had to constantly climb up, over, and across rooftops to make its way northward. Yet it never left so much as a dent in the roof tiles or street stones.
Magic is just too cool.
“Can every Manor do this?” Caleb asked through the open door to everyone inside.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Oscar replied. “Though it’s hard to say. There are very few situations where it would be needed, let alone advisable.”
“I don’t know anything about Reiner Manor doing this,” Chelsea said, pursing her lips.
“We’ll meet Hestia’s group at Ring Park,” Deirdre said. “Once they’re aboard, we’ll continue to the Radiance’s camp, just east of Crater District.”
“Let’s hope the others succeed at keeping the Shadows off our backs,” Callum said. “We’re in for a rough fight.”
“Even with this thing?” Caleb asked, gawking at the cannon-lined arms.
“We’ll use it the best we can,” Callum said. “But with how the city is laid out, we’ll be at our best fighting them on the ground.”
“Narrow streets and short sightlines,” Lorelei said, nodding.
“So if it wasn’t designed with Grimoire’s layout in mind, what was this form of the Manor built for?” Caleb asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Oscar said. “My grandfather said he’d heard that it, along with many other Manors, were given these forms as a defense against external threats to the city, though he never knew precisely what those were. And considering we don’t even know if other Manors can do this same thing, it’s hard to prove.”
External threats, huh?
Kind of like the Boundary Line. They tried to put a magical barrier around the entire city so long ago…
But for what?
What were they defending against?
Caleb’s musings were tossed away by the wind, and he laughed.
No need to worry about that right now. We have enough problems inside the city to take care of.
Hopefully, whatever once attacked the city is buried in the past.
“Here we go!” Callum called out, bringing Greyson Manor over and then down a hill to enter Ring Park. Caleb leaned over the balcony’s rail, and saw Hestia with three others on the ground, gawking up at the moving Manor.
“Hop aboard!” Caleb shouted, grinning.
They took his phrasing literally, and as Greyson Manor came to a stop, the four Radiance defectors leapt up, using Enhancement Magic to reach the top balcony in just a few bounds.
“You’re missing one,” Caleb said, eyeing Hestia, Galahad, Artemis, and Desmé.
“Octavian is more strategist than soldier,” Galahad said, grinning. “He’s right where he needs to be.”
“But he left us a way to communicate,” Hestia said. She smiled as she nodded to her shoulder, where a tiny golden creature sat, clinging to Hestia’s jacket. It was a field mouse about the size of Caleb’s palm, with big, rounded ears and wide, curious eyes. “One of Octavian’s Summons. He has others overhead spying on the Radiance, and he can send us information from one to the other. Not in words, but we’ve developed a shorthand, so we’ll know what he’s trying to tell us.”
“That’s convenient,” Caleb said. He reached out a hand. “I never got the chance earlier, but I wanted to say thank you for helping Shana. It meant a lot to her, and to Annabelle, and she said they wouldn’t have been able to succeed without your help.”
Hestia stared at Caleb’s hand in shock for a moment, and then smiled, reaching out and clasping his hand with hers. Though she wasn’t wearing gloves in this frigid weather, her hands were soft and warm, and that warmth seemed to flow into Caleb, filling his heart with hope. “I’m glad I was able to help them,” Hestia said. “And I hope, one day, I’ll be able to see them again.”
“I’m sure you will,” Caleb said. He looked over his shoulder, and saw that Gwen had left the observatory for one of the adjacent rooms, with Chelsea and Lorelei following. “Well, you should get inside. You’ll be teaming up with my parents and grandfather, not me, so you should get acquainted before the fighting starts.”
Hestia nodded, leading the way indoors with the other three following. Desmé took up the rear, and she paused in front of Caleb. Her pale skin stood out against her dark clothes, and her eyes seemed to swim with color, subtly changing with every moment. She fixed those eyes on Caleb, and for a long time both stared at each other in silence.
“The River of Time has touched you,” Desmé said softly. Her voice was rich and melodic, washing over Caleb. “And you’ve seen much in its waters.”
“How can you tell?” Caleb asked.
Desmé smiled, but there was a sadness to it. “I have – we all have – been cut off from the River’s magic for a long time. The others do not feel it, but I do. And while I cannot make use of its powers, I can see those who can.” She placed a gloved hand on Caleb’s. “There is far more to your power than you know. You are truly blessed to have such abilities. Never take them for granted. Never stop searching out their secrets.” She squeezed his hand lightly, then let go.
“Were you a Time Mage, too?” Caleb asked.
Desmé nodded. “Until the Crystal King rightly punished us, I was. Now, I fight in my own way. One might say I… ‘make due,’ I believe is the phrase.” She sighed, a single breath that contained such a wealth of emotion and longing, it stunned Caleb. “Good luck in what is to come, young Time Mage. And in what comes after. You have a long, exciting journey ahead of you.”
She followed her friends, leaving Caleb alone on the balcony.
Caleb placed his hands on the rail, leaning forward, letting the wind whip through his hair.
I forgot how the Crystal King severed all of the Radiance’s connections to Time Magic.
Is there any way to restore that to them? Desmé… she’s on our side now. Should she really be punished like that forever?
They all are…
Like me, but in a different way.
Is there any way to fix that? I know I can’t be cured, but can they?
Caleb swayed, his vision swimming before his eyes.
Seriously? Right n–
Caleb was leaning backwards, held in someone’s arms. He blinked twice, then looked up into the face of Chelsea.
“You caught me,” he said, smiling.
“You okay?” Chelsea asked.
Caleb stood up, nodding. “Yeah, it’s just one of those things. I told you all about it.”
“But I’ve never actually seen it happen.”
Caleb grinned. “Maybe that means I won’t have to worry about it in the fight ahead.”
Chelsea pursed her lips, then poked him in the ribs, eliciting a frantic giggle from him. “Let’s hope so. Don’t scare me like that, okay? What would you have done if I hadn’t been here to stop you from cracking your head open against the wall?”
“Cracked my head open against the wall,” Caleb said. Evidently, Chelsea didn’t find his attempt at humor funny, because she mercilessly tickled him, pulling him back every time he attempted to escape. Finally, after much protesting, Chelsea finally relented, waiting silently for several moments as Caleb caught his breath and got his last bits of laughter out.
“Be careful,” Chelsea said. “I need you to stay alive, you know.”
Caleb grinned. “I know. I’ll stay alive.”
“Promise?” Chelsea asked. She held out her hand, extending her pinky.
Caleb looped his pinky with hers. “Promise.”
“You’re far too generous with promises, kid.”
Chelsea smiled, just a little, and looked back into the observatory. “Those four aren’t so bad, are they?” she asked.
“Seems so,” Caleb said. “I get that Gwen has serious anger towards the Radiance – Mister Midnight is the same – but… they left the Radiance. And they seem like they mean it. We’re lucky to have them on our side.”
“I think so, too,” Chelsea said. She shoved her hands in her pockets, bristling against a gust of wind. “Won’t you come inside? It’s really cold.”
“I thought you loved winter in Grimoire,” Caleb said, grinning.
“I do. But that doesn’t mean I like standing out in the cold all day. Besides, we need to be at our best when the fighting starts.”
Caleb nodded. “Fair enough.” He followed her inside, closing the door to the balcony behind him. The warmth inside the observatory was a welcome reprieve from the freezing outdoor air.
“Shouldn’t be more than another minute or two,” Callum said.
“I will stay on board longer than the rest,” Oscar said, “backing you up with the Manor’s weapons. But once the fighting begins in earnest, I’ll join you on the ground.”
“We’ll go out through here,” Deirdre said, pushing aside a bookshelf to reveal a circular hatch in the floor. “It’ll take us straight out to ground level.”
“Ready?” Callum asked, pressing a few more buttons and then stepping away from the controls. Oscar handled the rest.
“When I start shooting,” Oscar said. “That’s your cue.”
Caleb could see bits of golden light at the edges of the windows now. And it wasn’t the golden light of sunrise.
It’s time to see what we’re really up against.
“Go,” Oscar said. A series of concussive booms resounded in the air, and streaks of light flashed outside. Callum opened the hatch, and he and Deirdre jumped through first. Isla followed, and then Caleb jumped after her.
He dropped through a cylindrical slide, rushing swiftly towards the ground, the air rushing all around him. He grinned, feeling a rush of nostalgia. And seconds later, he was jetting out of the slide, hitting the ground running.
He was in a familiar street. Rosa’s bakery was to his left, and several jewelry shops were on his right. Ahead, the street sloped upward, opening up into a small plaza. Caleb’s eyes tracked upward, toward a pillar of golden light in the distance, so bright that he couldn’t look directly at it. Streaks of bright cannon fire blurred through the air high above him, hitting with explosive force just beyond his sight, probably at the base of the pillar.
Farther ahead, Callum and Deirdre were already fighting. Three Enforcers blocked their path, but one dropped quickly to Caleb’s parent’s combined strength. The other two backed away, fighting more cautiously, and blurs of magical light filled the space between them and their foes.
Isla and Dama vanished, and a few moments later, another Enforcer crumpled to the ground. The remaining Enforcer leapt into a high backflip, vanishing into the plaza. Callum and Deirdre followed.
“Caleb!” Chelsea called, running alongside him. She shot him a teasing look. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be the front line?”
Caleb laughed. He reached out his hand, gave Chelsea’s a gentle squeeze, and then let go, leaping away. He ran up the side of a flower shop with the aid of adhesive Mobility discs, and then dashed across the roof, watching with wonder as more cannon fire flew over his head and blasted into the Radiance camp farther ahead.
We all hit the ground running. Let’s make the most of this momentum.
Suddenly, a pale light to his right caught his eye. Caleb looked, and saw the tiniest hints of sunrise through a gap in the mountains.
Dawn is here. And just in time. I may be used to fighting in the middle of the night when all is dark, but after all the deception, lies, and betrayals going around this city…
A fight like this…
…should be fought in the light of day.
Footsteps echoed on the stone floor. The man – if he could be called a man (such a Human term, he thought) – stood in the center of the circular chamber, watching the doorway.
“Don’t be shy,” the man said, sneering.
The footsteps sounded like paper on the stone, and when the figure rounded the corner and entered the chamber, the man could see why. The newcomer was wearing sandals made of straw.
“So you don’t mind the chill,” the man said.
The newcomer tilted his wide-brimmed, straw hat up, staring at the man with his one good eye. The corner of his mouth quirked upward ever so slightly. “I’ve gotten used to it.”
“I know you haven’t come alone,” the man said. He shoved his hands in his pockets, adopting a casual stance.
“I’m just here to make sure you know where you stand,” the newcomer said, resting a hand on one of many sword hilts. “Don’t try anything funny, Duo.”
“I suppose we should call him Kaohlad, now,” came a voice from outside. New footsteps echoed, more solid, accompanied by a third step that was sharper, lighter.
In strode Blaise Mathers, his cane clacking on the stone with him. He eyed Kaohlad with the same expression that the man had come to know so well through Adelaide’s eyes.
Blaise Mathers was in complete control.
“I was wondering how long it would take for you to come find me,” Kaohlad said, grinning. “What’s the matter? Having trouble containing your little game up above?”
“You could say that,” Blaise said. He rested both hands on his cane, adopting the same casual stance of Kaohlad.
Of course, both of them were lying with their posture. If either sensed a threat, this friendly little chat would become a fight to the death.
“Your Contract still holds, Duo,” Blaise said. “But you already know that.”
“Then why come all this way to retrieve me?” Kaohlad asked. “You could have summoned me with no trouble at all.”
“Because I know you, Duo,” Blaise said. “And you aren’t one to cage or constrict. So I’d like to see what you can offer me. You know how there are two critical pieces to our plan coming to fruition. The first is in place – though the Greyson boy may undo it, given the chance – but the second is still… tied up.”
Kaohlad chuckled. “You need my power to set it into motion.”
Blaise raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t say ‘need.’ But you would make it much easier, and free myself and my allies to act more effectively. Soon enough the so-called ‘Grimoire Guard’ will realize they can easily overcome the challenge of numbers and hostages above and undo everything I’ve worked for. But if my best and I can fight up above, rather than use up our strength on a task you can accomplish much easier, then all will be as it should.”
“And what will you do for me?” Kaohlad asked. “What can you possibly offer me? There’s nothing you have that I –”
“Reconciliation,” Blaise said. “You were banished by your father, eternally, unconditionally. You were stripped of physical form, left to wander the universe as a wraith. But even after all this time, you still long for what so many others do – family.”
“And you think you can change things for me?” Kaohlad asked.
“I do,” Blaise said. “Work with me. Finish the plan. Once that’s done, I promise you – you will return to your father and brothers as a hero, welcomed with glory and honor beyond your wildest dreams.”
Kaohlad stared at Blaise for a very long time, studying the man’s face.
He had a lot to think about.
Perhaps it was simpler than he thought.
Kaohlad grinned. “When do we start?”